Robert A. Heinlein was an incredibly prolific writer who, along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, was one of the great 20th century science fiction visionaries. Heinlein offered five famous rules for writers. These rules, written seventy years before the dawn of digital publishing, were in need of an update. Here’s my take on them.
Heinlein’s Original Rules:
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
My Updates for the Modern Indie Writer:
1) You must write.
This one *should* be self-explanatory. The problem is in the details. How many days a week do you need to work, and for how long? Is it better to focus on wordcount or hours logged in front of the computer? I suspect that each writer needs to figure out the amount of work that qualifies as being productive.
2) You must finish what you write.
Another no-brainer…and yet I have so much trouble following it. I have a tendency to hop from one project to the next; there are so many ideas clamoring for my attention, but I have to remind myself that flitting from one story to the next makes actually finishing any of them much more difficult.
3) You must not obsessively rewrite.
Rule #3 has always been the most controversial. I tend to write cyclically, revising continuously as I work so that my final draft is as clean as possible It also takes a long-ass time to finish anything. One of the hardest things about being an indie writer is knowing when your work is ready to be published. There’s no such thing as a “finished” manuscript, after all; you could conceivably keep rewriting and revising forever. I think it’s also worthwhile to accept that while the opinions of beta readers, proofers, and editors are valuable, there are times when you need to stick by your work.
4) You must publish your work.
Once your manuscript has been beta-tested and proofed, it’s time to put it on the market. Get it out there and keep it out there. In Heinlein’s day, writers had to send out manuscripts by mail (the savages!) to publishers and magazines. The process was slow, and during the months that a story was on submission, it didn’t earn any money. Now, we can finish a story and start earning almost immediately.
5) You must make your work available to as many readers as possible.
Get your eBook up on, at minimum, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I think it’s worthwhile to publish on the iBookstore, Kobo, and all the other smaller vendors via a distributor like Smashwords. But don’t stop there. It’s worth the effort to publish a print-on-demand edition with Createspace or Lightning Source. While you’re at it, what about an audiobook? The goal is to get your work into as many hands as possible. Providing a variety of formats can definitely help.